My husband, Joe, and I went to bed Christmas Eve filled with anticipation. We couldn’t wait for our 21-month-old son, Benjamin, to wake up Christmas morning to see what presents Santa had left on the living room floor next to the fireplace. We knew this Christmas would be even more exciting than last year’s holiday since Ben is older, very playful and understands better.
I wasn’t too worried about how Ben’s voice sounded Christmas Eve after dinner and while putting him to bed. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Darn — he’s getting a cold for the holidays.’
It was around 3 a.m. when Ben’s heavy breathing woke up Joe, who was concerned and went in to check on him. He was breathing differently, but he was peacefully sleeping and seemed OK.
Just before 5 a.m., his troubled breathing woke me up, and a few minutes later, Ben woke up and was crying and moving around and sounded like he was very distraught. I rushed into his room, picked him up, and he was not himself. Sometimes he would try to cough, and he couldn’t. Other times, however, when a cough came out, it was like no other cough I have ever heard. He sounded terrible, and I began to enter full panic mode. Whether it be from baby books I’ve read in the past, research I’ve done, mother’s instincts or a mixture of all three, I instantly knew Ben had croup.
It was the same type of feeling I got when the doctor at the hospital where Ben was delivered told us he had to go to the neonatal intensive care unit. It is a full-body worry sensation that engulfs you from head to toe. If you’re a parent whose child was ever in danger, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
I looked straight at Joe and said, with tears in my eyes, “I don’t like the sound of this. We need to go to the hospital.”
We took a couple minutes to get Ben to a less-distressed level. We thought if he calmed down, he could breathe better. Then we headed to the emergency room.
After the nurse talked with us and took his vital signs, the doctor came in. She spoke with us about our concerns, listened to his breathing and heard his cough. This mama was right — Ben had croup. But we caught it early, she said. At that time, he didn’t need to be admitted, and he didn’t need breathing treatments, unless it got worse. Ben received an oral steroid, and she said we would see it start working in just a couple hours. In just two to three days, Ben was back to normal.
According to kidshealth.org, “Kids with croup have a virus that makes their airways swell. They have a telltale ‘barking’ cough (often compared to the sound of a seal’s bark) and a raspy voice and make a high-pitched, squeaky noise when they breathe.
“At first, a child may have cold symptoms, like a stuffy or runny nose and a fever. As the upper airways — the voice box (larynx) and windpipe (trachea) — become irritated and swollen, a child may become hoarse and have the barking cough.
“If the airways continue to swell, breathing gets harder. Kids often make a high-pitched or squeaking noise while breathing in — this is stridor. They also might breathe very fast or have retractions (when the skin between the ribs pulls in during breathing). In the most serious cases, a child may appear pale or have a bluish color around the mouth due to a lack of oxygen.”
On its website, American Family Physician referred to a 2004 Ohio State University College of Medicine and Public Health study, which says, “Croup accounts for 15 percent of respiratory tract infections among children in practice and during the second year of life. One to 5 percent of children will need outpatient evaluation for croup.
“Because the respiratory distress associated with croup is frightening for patients and caregivers, physicians in office or emergency department settings often are consulted. While steroids have been used for years to decrease respiratory distress in children with croup, new evidence suggests benefit from the use of oral steroids in the outpatient setting.”
Even though our Christmas started very differently than we thought it would, after we returned home from the hospital, Ben was indeed excited to see and open his gifts and to have his grandparents visit with more gifts and love. Although he was a bit cranky — I would have been, too, if I felt that way — the afternoon and night ended up being a nice time.
Although Ben’s case of croup was mild — I’m assuming since no hospital admission or breathing treatments were needed — I do not regret at all going to the ER. Sometimes, croup can be treated at home, but that is something I’m glad I didn’t take a chance with, especially since it was the first time our family dealt with this kind of viral infection. And not every pediatrician office is open on holidays.
If you feel the well-being of your life or someone else’s is in trouble, don’t hesitate to seek medical help. When the doctor told us we caught it early, I felt relieved.
Our thanks to St. Luke’s Hospital in Allentown. They were most comforting during a stressful time.